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Transmission & Drivetrain

Are Most High-Performance Cars Automatic?

Are Most High-Performance Cars Automatic? - Gearstar Performance

Audi S6/S8, Lexus ISF, BMW M5/550i, Porsche Panamera, to name but a few are some sports cars with automatic transmission. A lot of people have come to wonder why most high-performance and high horsepower sports cars of this nature are automatic only since there are two basic types of transmission. A wave of confusion has also been stirred among car enthusiasts whether they should buy a manual car or they are better off with an automatic which seems to be trending these days.

Nonetheless, we’ll be outlining the differences between manual and automatic cars and why the latter has become prevalent of late whereas the former has been abandoned and may soon become extinct in the auto industry. Reports, for instance, reveal that as of 2013, 3.9 percent of new cars sold in the U.S in 2013 featured manual transmissions while 67 percent of 2013 model-year cars were released with automatic transmissions.

Why Most High-Performance Cars Automatic

Unarguably, most high-performance cars, sleek rides, sports cars, call it whatever you want are automatic only. The statement above holds true when one considers some of the best sports cars with automatic transmissions outlined below:

  • BMW M3
  • Subaru BRZ
  • Nissan 370Z
  • Subaru WRX
  • Jaguar F-Type
  • Ford Mustang
  • Volkswagen GTI
  • Porsche 911 GT3
  • Chevrolet Camaro
  • Chevrolet Corvette
  • Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • Maserati GranTurismo
  • Mini Cooper Countryman

Some of the reasons for the popularity of automatic cars include:

Demand

A number of people who are willing to dish out as high as $100,000 for a car want it to be the fastest and best in design. They are less concerned if it has a manual or automatic transmission as long as it can answer both needs. Potential buyers may also vote that they prefer two pedals instead of having to deal with three since it can get complicated or lead to a waste of time having to switch between gears while in stop-and-go traffic.

On the contrary, several sport enthusiasts have voiced their opinion that they’ll rather have a manual car even though these are the same class of people who are less willing to buy a brand new car. They’ll rather buy a fairly used car knowing fully well that in the next four years, the AMG they had settled for would’ve been less in trend. As a consequence, there are more people willing to dish out thousands of dollars for it in comparison to only a dozen buyers who are willing to buy a brand new stick-shift car.

Speed

When it comes to automatics, all a manufacturer has to worry about is how fast to make the car in question.

The likes of Lexus first paraded a car that could switch gears within 10 milliseconds before it was narrowed down to 5 milliseconds. These days, Lexus claims its car can offer something close if not comparable to lightning strikes, or hummingbird wing flaps. If one considers this, it answers the need of the first class of users for something speedy which in this case, is wrapped up in an automatic design.

Asides Lexus, Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, and McLaren have all taken a liking to automatic transmissions and as such, you’ll find their latest cars featuring it instead of a stick-shift.

Cost of Design

The cost of designing an automatic car may sometimes be comparable to that of some manual cars which has drawn the attention of manufacturers to it. In the same vein, you may have noticed that some manual cars cost the same as an automatic in its range.

As a result, manufacturers of cars have targeted the first class of users since it is less expensive (in some cases) to design an automatic car in the first place while also coming with a promise of offering a faster ride.

The Role of a Transmission

If you’re going to move your car from one point to the other, then you’ll most likely want to switch between gears which are a capability provided by the car’s transmission.

The transmission, in this case, is an oil-filled gearbox that consists of parts such as gears, bearings, and shafts. The gears determine the range of speed which the vehicle can move while the shaft transfers the power from the engine to the wheels. Note that there are various gears and each has a specific ratio which it can operate. The lower gears, for example, increase the available power and reduce the speed while the higher gears reduce the power but increase the speed. As a result of this varying gear ratio, the wheels do not function at the same speed as the engine, and power and speed are also evenly distributed efficiently.

Also, torque passes through the input shaft into the transmission, and then passes through the gears and is sent out through the output shaft. It is then passed on to the wheels and the mode of transfer is dependent on the design of the car such as front, rear, and a mid-engined. Now that’s out of the way, let’s show you what the manual and automatic transmissions entails.

Manual vs. Automatic Transmissions

The two main types of transmissions you’ll find in cars are manual and automatic transmissions. The major difference between automatic and manual transmission is the method that is used to switch between gears. In the case of automatics, the car changes its gear when you shift while manual cars allow you to shift between gears with the help of a clutch and gas pedals.

Nevertheless, both modes of transmissions help to transfer the engine’s power to the drive axle even though each takes a different approach to achieve the feat. Check it out:

Manual

Let’s say you were born in the 19th century, then you’ll agree that a majority of cars back then had a manual transmission also known as a stick shift. What was prevalent at that time, is a shift lever that is vertically placed in the car’s center console and connected to the transmission which enables the gear to be changed The change in gear allows the speed of the car to be manually controlled and as such, the driver can determine how fast or slow the car is at any point in time.

Now, a pedal is also required in order to make a quick switch between gears where the clutch located between the engine and the transmission will need to be released, a gear selected, and the clutch used again. Due to these processes, one will need a good knowledge of how to switch between gears even though it a lot of time is not required before they can master it.

Automatic

As the name implies, most of the work has already been done on your behalf with Automatics. Prior to this time, owning a car of this nature was considered a luxury which is no longer the case in 2019 since a number of entry-level cars also feature an automatic transmission. That aside, two types of automatic transmissions have been provided and these are the traditional automatic and dual-clutch automatic. A traditional automatic has its transmission connected to the car’s engine through the hydraulic torque converter.

On the contrary, the dual-clutch automatic uses a pair of clutches to change gears even without the driver manually inputting it. The cars ability to switch gears can be attributed to the monitoring of the speed of the car, the engine’s revolution, and the throttle pedal’s position. Despite this, there are still automatic cars that enable a manual shifting of gear with the use of a shift lever that is located behind the steering’s wheel.

Which Type of Transmission Best Suits Your Needs?

In this section, we’ll be comparing the manual and automatic transmission side by side to show you that where one fails, the other makes up for it.

Mode of Operation

A manual transmission comes with the promise of giving you greater control over your car since you can manipulate it in several ways as you deem fit. You can downshift, slowdown, or even stop your car and there’s this perception that they allow more of the engine’s power to be transmitted to the drive wheels and it could do a lot of good in terms of faster acceleration.

Alternatively, you can be more focused on the road with an automatic transmission that does most of the work for you. You’re also less likely to get fatigued easily if you’re in traffic that tends to move, slow, stop and cycle again.

Cheaper to Maintain

A manual car will definitely be cheaper in comparison to an automatic ride and the cost of maintaining it will be lesser since its technology is less complex. But keep in mind that you may still have to replace the clutch occasionally which costs a couple of dollars to do so.

On the contrary, an automatic car that is easier and more comfortable to drive still comes with a higher cost of maintenance. Featuring more advanced technology and machinery will need a great level of expertise to be fixed if there’s ever a need for it and an extra cost.

Ease of Usage

Those who are willing to choose an automatic car over a manual one have pinpointed it to its ease of usage. While operating a car with a manual transmission is easy, it is easier to maneuver one with an automatic transmission since your limbs do not have to grow accustomed to using the gear and clutch.

There’s also a certain level of difficulty posed to less experienced drivers while navigating steep inclines. The latter may be the least of your worry with an automatic car since you can conveniently go up and down a hill.

Your Need for Speed

In terms of speed, an automatic car is a clear winner since the dual-clutch automatic gearbox, for instance, can switch between gears in a matter of milliseconds. If you were going to use your hand to do this manually, then it’ll take at least 3 seconds if not more to get the desired gear in place. Therefore, a computer program embedded in automatics can be considerably faster than the movement of a human.

For more efficiency and performance, a number of automatic cars released of late feature six (2014 Ford Focus automatic version) to eight-speed transmissions which is an advancement from the four-speed automatics which were prevalent a few years ago. Consequently, the higher the number of gears, then the better the acceleration and optimized fuel consumption.

Now that you know the differences between both, you can now make a decision if you should get a manual car or try a car such as the Ferrari with an automatic transmission

Conclusion

Manual cars may have gained popularity a century ago, but the ever-changing trends in technology are moving to the automatic realm where things are done more easily, efficiently, and faster in order to boost the level of performance and people’s productivity. If you were torn between the decision of settling for a manual or automatic car, that should be a thing of the past after taking a closer look at our manual vs automatic transmission systems for cars.

10 Mods That’ll Make Your Car Faster (and 10 That Won’t)

10 Mods That'll Make Your Car Faster (and 10 That Won't) - Gearstar Performance

Don’t you just hate it when your car runs slow? If that’s a yes, then a good knowledge of some easy modifications that’ll make your car faster and how to implement them will ensure it’s a thing of the past.

A fast ride is every car lover’s dream come true and if you’re enthusiastic about yours, that phrase may be a perfect description of your expectations. Look at it this way: your car can be an object of pride, something to show off, and even give you that rush of adrenaline as you race along the road.

But wait! What happens if you’ll rather do the work yourself at home without a third-party tampering with your much-admired baby, would that be possible?

Definitely! Slide under the hood, install some panels, revamp its engine and carry out several other manipulations.

And guess what? Your machine will sound new, run faster, and be several steps closer to your dream car if not there.

On the other hand, there a lot of modifications on the Internet which may do a better job at being a waste of time than actually giving you the desired results.

Therefore, we’ll be outlining those that work and those that don’t in order to keep you focused on what’s really relevant to help you achieve your goal.

10 Easy Mods to Make Your Car Faster

There are several easy, affordable ways to make your car faster, louder, and better even if you’re at home while also adhering to local laws, limits, and regulations. If the latter is what you’re out to get, then give each of these a try:

1. Cold Air Intake

We’ve had many people ask, “does an air intake make your car faster?” It sure does, but here’s the interesting thing: cold air is what is required because it is denser than warm air and will, therefore, introduce more air into the motor in order to boost its torque and horsepower. With more condensed air, your engine can breathe better, and the fuel can also be burnt efficiently which helps to push your ride forward. That being the case, cold air intake is one of the easiest mods to make your car faster since air and fuel enable your car to accelerate in the first place.

2. NOS System

Installing a NOS (Nitrous oxide) in your car can help to supply the oxygen needed in short bursts for combustion and to generate more power in your engine. On the other hand, doing this in certain states may be illegal which brings the need to put into consideration if it is allowed in the region where you reside. If it is, one more thing to give a thought to while you are upgrading the amount of air in your motor is ensuring the proper ratio between the gas and fuel in order to make your efforts futile. By doing this, you would’ve successfully achieved the purpose of trying to boost the cool air levels in the first place.

3. Supercharger

A supercharger compresses air and forces it into the engine, thus you can also generate the extra power for your car through its use. However, using a forced air induction system that allows more cool air and fuel to enter the motor may require advanced reconstruction of your engine. The reason is, the system consists of a chain, belt, and a crankshaft and as such, it is a major modification that may need some level of expertise for its installation.

4. Fuel System Upgrade

More air, more air, but what about more fuel in each cylinder? Hey, that’s just as essential if you must ramp your car up to the desired speed in order to prevent pre-detonation. What are we getting at? A fuel system upgrade with the use of high-flow injectors, high-flow filters, high-flow fuel pumps, bigger gas lines, will allow more fuel to be consumed in your car which may not really sound economical, but it does the job just right in giving you the desired speed. Moreover, it’ll do no good bumping the cool air supply without pairing it with a proper fuel-to-air ratio that will aid in combustion.

5. True Dual Exhaust

Did you know an exhaust system can make your car faster and louder? Well, it can! A true dual exhaust system, for instance, is an exhaust that starts all the way from the back and splits into two tailpipes. It can also serve as an alternative to a catalytic converter. What the system does is to facilitate the smooth flow of the exhaust through the engine thereby optimizing the power of the car. Now, before you dive right into it, your best bet is to carry out research on the street legalities of a modification of this nature since it could potentially impact on your emission system.

6. Drivetrain

A drivetrain promises to make your car faster and better because it converts the power generated in the motor to the energy that can be used by your car’s wheels. As a consequence, boosting the power of your car with the supply of cool air and more fuel combustion also brings about the need to upgrade the car’s drivetrain. The drivetrain components that will need to be upgraded include flywheels, clutches, differentials, gears, and driveshafts.

7. Tires

Another easy, affordable way which your car can be made to drive faster is to use nitrogen tires which are less susceptible to air and water vapor. Keep in mind that the weight of the car is supported by the tires and the speed of the motor will also be supported by what’s touching the ground. For this reason, you need great tires that have been properly inflated to handle the corners and twist as you move your vehicle across the country.

8. Brakes

Now don’t squirm when you hear brakes since they’re primarily used to halt the car. However, high-performance brakes are just as important to help you drive faster because, with their help, you can stop efficiently and quickly switch your foot to the throttle to resume your driving spree.

9. Suspension

If you’ll like to take it one step further, there’s the suspension and chassis that also need to be upgraded to handle the increase in power which the engine will be giving out. Accordingly, parts of these components that may require an upgrade include tie rods, tower braces, sway bars, axels, h-brackets, and roll cages

10. Performance Chipset

The latest models of some cars come with a performance chipset which controls the ratio of gas combustion, anti-lock brakes, timing, and other factors. These chips used in stock fuel injection systems limit the amount of air and fuel that can be supplied to the motor. Likewise, there are custom performance chips on the market which can be installed in the car in order to override the car’s factory settings and give the car some level of speed.

10 Mods That Are a Waste of Time

Now that you know what’s effective, it’s time to show you the some of the modifications that are a waste of time which you may do well to avoid entirely. It’ll save you the time, effort, and money.

1. Spark Plugs

There is the general belief that the addition of performance plugs could significantly provide more power to the engine since they ignite the air and fuel mixture in the engine. While that may be true, these plugs need to be coupled with the addition of air and fuel in the motor to make them useful. Thus, before dishing out the cash to get one of these, ensure that you have created a suitable environment for them to thrive.

2. Big Rims

Big rims are a great pair of accessory for your car’s heels, but they may be specifically tailored to a specific car which means, it can do a great job in boosting the car’s speed even though the same cannot be said for every car. If the rims are not a perfect fit for your car, then it will do little or nothing to impact on its speed.

3. Rear Wings

Rear wings became a thing after they were featured in the movie, Fast and Furious. What these wings do, is to ensure your car wheels are still on the road especially if it’s moving with a lot of power. You don’t want it bouncing on and off the road thereby offering a non-seamless driving experience. Thus, the rear wings are beneficial in this aspect and not really when it comes to helping your car move faster.

4. Body Kits

Body kits also got a widespread adoption after they were also featured in Fast and Furious. These kits are sometimes made with cheap materials and may not even be the perfect fit for the car which will allow the car to move fast.

5. Exhaust Tip

While there is a true dual exhaust which can boost the performance level of your car, there is an exhaust tip, on the other hand, making it loud. Now the choice is left for you to make between a faster car whose exhaust has a purpose or a louder one which some people have also sought to achieve.

6. Higher-Grade Fuel

A particular car is designed to optimally use a certain grade fuel and that being so, using a higher-grade fuel than what your car has been designed to handle may not cut it. You must ensure that your car can support the higher-grade fuel you are about to fill it up with it if not it could knock the engine. Similarly, a high-performance car will definitely be able to handle the high-grade fuel and allow your vehicle to run smoothly without feeling like you’ve launched a spaceship.

7. Fuel Additives

One more trick that has been employed in making cars run faster, is the addition of car additives which are not really as effective on regular cars as people have been led to believe. In this case, it is more advisable to run the car in a way which the manufacturer has explicitly stated in the manual.

8. Short Ram Intakes

A short ram air intake with the use of a short pipe will only draw hot air around the motor which is not what is necessary to speed up your car. Hot air cannot boost the speed in comparison to cold air which can do a much better job which, therefore, makes a cold air intake a better option since the filter will be as far as possible from the hot engine.

9. Adding Stickers

Many people believe the use of stickers will add horsepower to their car, but that is not the case. Nonetheless, the same cannot be said about Car Throttle stickers which can add 20bhp which is not advisable.

10. Too Large Exhaust System

A large exhaust will allow your car’s engine to breathe easily and also free its performance. Now, while that may be a good thing, using a box that is overly too large will only draw the attention of everyone around you since a smaller one would’ve done the job just as well without being a nuisance.

Conclusion

Your “need for speed” and to be “fast and furious” can be actualized with the 10 modifications to make a car drive faster and better which we’ve outlined in our guide. While you’re at it, you also know what to keep in mind in order to prevent any potential problems that could arise through certain modifications. So, go ahead and boost the cool air levels, fuel, NOS system, supercharger, etc. and your car will be a wonder to you and an onlooker.

Manual vs. Automatic Transmissions: Auto Industry’s Greatest Rivalry

Manual vs. Automatic Transmissions: Auto Industry's Greatest Rivalry - Gearstar Performance

It was the 1930s, the era of the Great Depression, a time when America was facing hopelessness and desperation as the prospects of war slowly grew to a boiling point over in Europe. And, amidst all that, the automatic transmission was born.

First brought to market by General Motors and popularized by the Hydra-Matic and its successors, automatic transmissions differed from their manual counterparts through the addition of a self-sufficient hydraulic fluid-based automatic shifting system, allowing cars to shift gears without driver input, versus the classic manual or stick shift system.

Ever since automatic transmissions hit the market, the same debate has been raging on for decades: which drives better? Which goes faster? Which transmission type, between the automatic and the manual, is the superior one?

Before we go into what the answer is and why, let’s delve a little deeper into the debate.

What’s Under the Hood?

Car transmissions are pretty complicated when you get down to the molecular level, but superficially, it’s simple stuff. Fuel and air go into the engine, things go boom, and the energy generated by the combustion travels through the input shaft into a metal case filled with differently-sized gears. The torque from the input shaft is translated into power through the gears that the transmission currently has engaged, out through the output shaft and into the rest of the car, depending on how it’s built.

But not all transmissions are made equal. Some have clutches, others have torque converters. Some work very differently from others, even if the end goal is the same – and little efficiencies here and there, such as optimized gear ratios, better torque conversion, improved cooling and better material can turn a 30-year-old piece of junk into a tranny powerful enough for modern-day drag racing. Between the big types, though, you’re largely looking at three major transmissions: the automatic, the manual, and the continuously variable transmission. There are others, of course, but today we’ll just tackle the first two. So, first up, our introductions:

The manual transmission came first, and its history goes back to the days of the very first real gearbox. The concept is simple, even though the application may have changed throughout the years: a shift lever attached to the transmission lets you shift from one gear/speed to another, but only after the clutch, which can be found between the transmission and the engine, is released. The clutch holds the current gear in place – to shift with a stick, you have to disengage the clutch by pushing down on a pedal next to the brake, then reengage the clutch by letting go.

Driving stick is a matter of several things, including knowing when to shift to which gear, and timing your clutch to prevent too much wear-and-tear. Engaging the clutch too slowly will wear the disc out – on the other hand, engage the clutch too quickly while stationary, and the engine might stall.

In the other corner, we have the automatic transmission. GM and Ford first came out with these – transmissions that were built largely like manual transmissions, except that they allow for an automatic shift in gears without any input from the driver, through a monitoring system which takes into account the car’s speed, engine rpm and throttle pedal.

In the past, this was done hydraulically – today, it’s all electronics. Most automatic transmissions come with a little computer in them. You can still pick up an old 7004R or any other among a series of powerful non-electronic automatic transmissions, and refurbish them for modern use – but the concept is the same.

An automatic transmission comes with a host of convenient quality-of-life benefits, including less maintenance (generally speaking) and improved, smoother driving in stop-and-go traffic. It’s easier to drive an automatic as well, given that you don’t have to worry about the clutch at all, and you don’t have to run the risk of stalling the engine. Under heavier engine load, however, automatic transmissions can get a little sluggish – and if mismatched or left non-optimized, plenty automatic transmissions forego the whole “smooth” driving experience.

Manual Transmissions vs. Automatic Transmissions

Manual transmissions involve the use of a clutch and a shift lever to switch gears, and you can’t rely on the car to do it for you. Automatic transmissions use a series of electronic sensors and hydraulic fluid to shift gears automatically. In the past, manual transmissions were the better answer for sheer performance and fuel efficiency – the ability to determine when to shift gears gave manual transmission drivers the upper hand on fuel, and a manual transmission handled well accelerated faster.

Today, technology has basically caught up with the stick shift, and there’s little reason to go manual if your intent is to leave the other driver in the wind. Automatic transmissions come in various types, but they’re winning in almost every single department: there are more automatic transmissions out there than manual transmissions, and the newest models are just as fuel efficient and accelerate just as well.

Who’s Winning the Race?

The race between the automatic and manual transmission is wholly based on the year it takes place in. If we take the world’s fastest cars, one from each camp, then the automatic transmission is the flat-out winner.

Automatic transmissions have long caught up with stick shift manual transmissions in both acceleration and fuel efficiency, and given the massive popularity of automatic transmissions in America, the overall cost difference has gotten drastically smaller. The wear and tear on automatic vs. manual transmissions is also a matter of experience, as a manual

Sure, it’s still definitely more expensive to grab a complex CVT, but in some cases, you can find cars that cost more with a manual transmission than with an automatic.

However, manual transmissions are still fun to drive – and if you’re limiting your options to older transmissions, then a competent driver behind the wheel of a stick shift can still pull ahead in a race. That being said, there is still one thing the manual has over the automatic: coordination and skill. Driving stick is still a skill, and a good skill to have. And if you’re sick of the clutch, just grab an automatic manual transmission.

Upgrading a 4L70E Transmission

Upgrading a 4L70E Transmission - Gearstar Performance

The 4L70E is one of several GM-produced electronic automatic transmissions developed as a successor to the Turbo-Hydramatic line of transmissions, some of which continue to be excellent transmissions for plenty of performance builds looking for a good stock transmission with a TV cable over electronics.

Alongside the 4L60E on one spectrum, and the 4L80E on the other, the 4L70E sits between two ends of spectrum of transmission needs.

Depending on what you want, it may be an excellent transmission and just the thing you’re looking for. It’s all a question of specialization. Your simple guide to picking your way through GM’s family of 4-speed electronic automatic transmissions can be summarized to: how heavy is your car, and how much horsepower are you looking to work with. Heavier builds steer towards the larger, more imposing, power-hungry and powerful 4L80E, and the smaller your car is, the more you should be skewing towards the 4L60E.

But life isn’t always simple, and in this case, there’s more to it than just that. Here’s a quick little rundown on the 4L70E, its relative history in the world of GM transmissions, and its potential – potential that transmission experts can take, unlock, and transform into pure performance.

History of the 4L70E

GM’s transmissions play a big part in the history of American automobile manufacturing, and alongside Ford (a “friendly” competition that survives to this day), the automatic transmissions of the late 70s and early 80s pioneered the inclusion of accessible overdrive – a new gear made more accessible to transmissions after that point, designed to allow a car to maintain speed while cutting down on RPM and fuel usage, for a much better fuel economy.

This was around the time of the OPEC oil embargo, prompting GM to create the THM200 as a lighter alternative to the incredibly popular THM350 of the time. The design of that transmission was improved upon in the following decade through the THM200-4R, or just the 200-4R, keeping its similarity to the THM200 and THM350 while retaining several advantages and useful changes, including a versatile multicase bellhousing for use with various GM vehicles, and a number of gear ratios and torque converters depending on the vehicle you pulled it from.

Following the success of the 200-4R, the next-in-line kept the new designation, and the 700R4 transmission was born in 1982. This is the first of our new automatic transmissions, as the 700R4 eventually was renamed into the 4L60, in keeping with a new GM naming scheme, in 1990. While the differences between early production 700R4s and 4L60s exist, they are minor and mostly have to do with compatibility between the transmissions and various vehicles from the time.

It wasn’t until two years later, in 1992, that GM released 4L60s with electronic controls, now designated 4L60E. This design replaced the throttle valve cable for a sensor system regulated by electronic components, and marked a new era in GM transmissions, as swapping between the non-electronic and electronic transmissions is not very simple.

Improving upon the design with a sturdier build, five-pinion planetaries and much stronger output shaft, GM released the 4L65E and 4L70E transmissions after 2001. Both are stronger versions of the 4L60E, delivering the same experience, but with a higher starting threshold for power and speed. The only difference is the speed sensor located in the pump of the 4L70E, and the convenience you personally have in picking between one and the other depending on your available resources, market prices, and any existing deals.

4L70E Transmission Stats

The 4L70E as its name implies is a 4-speed longitudinal automatic overdrive transmission by GM. The E in its designation indicates that it uses electronic controls over a throttle valve cable, and it sets itself apart from the previous 4L60E by providing a sturdier build, including both five-pinion planetaries over the 4L60E’s four-pinion planetaries, and an improved output shaft. Its outer case material is aluminum, and it clocks in at about 133 lbs. dry, without any transmission fluid.

Although it is improved, it shares the same stock case design with the 4L60E, and its close cousin the 4L65E. All 4L__Es utilize a torque converter lock, and the 4L70E is no exception.

The gear ratios for the 4L70E are:

  • 1st gear: 3.06
  • 2nd gear: 1.62
  • 3rd gear: 1.00
  • 4th gear: 0.70

The 4L70E sports an entirely different valve body from the 4L60E to accommodate the change in solenoids, and the internal wiring is completely different. Care needs to be taken when deciding how to install a 4L70E in cars that originally used an older GM transmission – while it often bolts just in, the car may not be compatible with the electronic components in the 4L70E if it’s a model before 1996. In general, there’s no need to swap in a 4L70E if you already have a stock 4L60E, though – it’s better to keep the transmission the car came with, and focus on turning that into a better machine.

4L70E vs. 4L60E vs. 4L80E

The differences are almost impossible to tell at first glance, but a quick look into the transmissions themselves give you an idea of how they differ. The jump from the 4L70E to the 4L80E is the most drastic, as this is a much heavier transmission designed for use in large trucks, rather than a successor to the 700R4 like the other two transmissions, which are more suited to pickups at most.

The 4L80E weighs 178 lbs. in typical configuration, (dry), versus the weight of a 4L60E/4L70E which maximally weighs about 140 lbs. Your best bet towards visually distinguishing between the 4L60E and the 4L70E is checking the service parts identification sticker if it’s the stock transmission in a GM vehicle. Look for M70, which denotes the 4L70E. Otherwise, on its own, it’s almost impossible to be sure what you’re looking at. They all use the same oil pans and the designations are interchangeable depending on the year and build of the transmission.

Between the 4L60E and the 4L70E, the biggest difference is time. The 4L70E is a straight upgrade to the 4L60E, appearing on the market several years after the 4L60E has had time to shine. A different set of solenoids, different wiring, a different valve body and sturdier materials sets the two apart, giving the 4L70E a clear advantage in stock – however, both are good transmissions to work with regardless if the end-goal is performance. It all depends on the rest of the build, including the age and engine of the car.

Overview of GM’s Stronger 4L65E Transmission

Overview of GM's Stronger 4L65E Transmission - Gearstar Performance

The 4L65E transmission is built for Chevrolet, as an improved iteration of the 4L60E, and a successor to the 700R4. Unlike its predecessors, the 4L60E and later 4L65E is an electronic automatic transmission, with a five-pinion gearset, overdrive, and a stock torque limit of about 380 ft.-lbs. torque.

With some elbow grease, the right aftermarket parts and a good deal of experience with GM transmissions, a dedicated and qualified specialist can turn the 4L65E into a workhorse of a transmission, with a total 650 horsepower and matching 650 ft.-lbs. of torque. The 4L65E is ideal for such a high amount of torque, as its five-pinion design, 3-4 clutch and improved hydraulic fluid capacity make it a clear winner over the 4L60E for heavier builds with more required power.

But it takes more than that to justify buying a 4L65E over another transmission, or even figuring out which one you’ve currently got in your own Chevy. From the Turbo-Hydramatic 700R4, to the 4L60E, the 4L65E, and more recent 4L70E, GM has come up with several different ways to refine the design of the old-time classic TH350. However, as similar as these transmissions might be, they each come with different gear ratios, valve bodiestorque converters, and more. Some are interchangeable – others aren’t.

History of the GM 4L65E Transmission

The history of the 4L65E goes as far back as the 1960s, when General Motors introduced the Turbo-Hydramatic 350 as a new and improved automatic transmission, a successor to the Powerglide. The TH350 could be found under the hood in most GM trucks and rear-wheel drive cars up until the mid-80s, due to its reliability, sturdy build, and compact size.

While small at under 22 inches in length and roughly 120lbs in weight, it was a transmission that at the time packed enough of a punch to drive a Jeep. Typically produced without a torque controller until the TH350-C in ’79, the transmission was eventually succeeded by GM’s 700R4.

The 700R4 made the leap into the four-speed automatic transmission market, introducing overdrive as a new feature for the more fuel-conscious America of the early 80s and beyond. With fuel prices up and the automobile still in hot demand, the 700R4 allowed GM vehicles to ride more efficiently, while incorporating many of the features that made the TH350 so great, including durability and power.

While still being a non-electronic transmission, access to overdrive and general better fuel efficiency allowed the 700R4 to help GM meet stricter emission guidelines, and help save customers money on fuel costs. To this day, aftermarket modifications allow the 700R4 to act as a premium stock transmission to modify and stick into big block racing vehicles without electronic controls.

Designated as a 4L60 in the early 90s (after its 4 speeds, longitudinal positioning and 6000 lbs. GVW), the 700R4 was eventually succeeded by the 4L60E in 1997, GM’s first automatic overdrive transmission with electronic controls. Sporting the same length, weight and overall bellhousing, the main difference between the two was the introduction of electronic controls, and an adapted valve body and actuation system to accompany the new solenoids and actuators.

Different versions of the 4L60E hit the market over the course of its lifetime, differentiated through their tail housing, and presence or lack of removable bellhousing. Due to a change in solenoids and a six-bolt tail shaft, 4L60E transmissions built after 1996 are incompatible and non-interchangeable with older models.

Finally, a stronger updated version of the 4L60E was introduced in 2001 with a five-pinion planetary carrier and improved input shaft. Also sporting a different torque controller, the 4L65E comes with a hardened sun shell and has an overall better potential as a big block performance transmission due to its planetary carrier.

Specs on the 4L65E

Sporting a five-pinion planetary carrier, a 300mm input shaft over the 4L60E’s 298mm input shaft, and a better 3-4 clutch, the 4L65E comes with the following gear ratios:

  • 1st gear: 3. 06
  • 2nd gear: 1.62
  • 3rd gear: 1
  • 4th gear: 0.69

Ultimately, the upper limit for the 4L65E even with a lot of tender, loving care is 700hp – anything beyond that is better off swapping for a 4L85E, which although much stronger, is also pricier and more power-hungry.

What Sets the 4L65E Transmission Apart?

Identifying a 4L65E from other similar transmissions, such as the 4L60/700R4 and the 4L60E, takes a little practice and know-how. Despite a thicker input shaft and a different sun shell, identifying the 4L65E without opening it up requires knowledge of the alternate designations for the transmissions (M30 for the 4L60E, M32 for the 4L65E), and a few key cosmetic differences.

Older 4L60E transmissions come with a four-bolt tail housing, versus the 4L65E’s six-bolt. However, some later 4L60E transmissions also came with a six-bolt tail housing, as well as a removable bellhousing. Performance versions of the 4L60E are sometimes also designated with M32.

Ultimately, your best bet towards identifying a 4L65E is to bring it to a shop. You can check transmission codes, designations and even try and gauge the difference between input shafts, but the key differences are only visible inside the transmission.

Pushing the Limits

The beautiful thing about aftermarket parts is that even a transmission that operates on a mediocre level performance-wise can be brought up to spec with a full redo. When it comes to a custom-built 4L65E transmission, there’s a lot that can be done – from completely replacing and improving the torque converter, to installing new vanes, pump rings, thrust washers, bearings and solenoids.

Replace the input shaft, outfit the tranny with a completely revamped electronic control system and speed sensor, a custom shift kit, better cooler to prevent overheating under pressure and extra capacity pan for up to 14 quarts of transmission fluid, and you’ve got yourself a completely different piece of equipment.

Ultimately, choosing the right transmission for your car – and choosing the right set of custom modifications to said transmission – is a job in and of itself. You must consider the size and traction of your tires, the power your engine develops, the exact purpose of the car and the kind of performance you’re looking for, etc.

In some respects, a 4L60E might beat out a 4L65E simply because it happened to be what your car came with, or because you got a much better deal for it from the boneyard. Choosing between the two is a matter of circumstance, and budget. If you don’t need the extra power afforded by an extra pinion, jumping to a 4L65E might not be worth it. On the other hand, a heavier build seeking more torque and horsepower would do better with something stronger.

200-4R Transmission: The Holy Grail of Power, Fuel Efficiency

200-4R Transmission: The Holy Grail of Power, Fuel Efficiency - Gearstar Performance

If you are looking for a way to upgrade your classic muscle car’s Powerglide or TH350, then you would be hard-pressed to find a better answer than the 700R4, or the 200-4R. Yet while the 700R4 is often seen as the more popular successor to the throne of the TH350, the 700R4 is not going to squeeze into every build, not is it necessarily the best fit for your car – especially if you are going forward with a lot of aftermarket work in mind.

If you are looking for an upgrade to your old muscle car and want something that both packs a punch and substantially improves your fuel efficiency, then the 200-4R is the right place to start. Its bellhousing, drive shaft, and mechanical speedometer make it a superior fit for vintage cars, and its sturdier build and better torque capacity make it the better non-electronic 4-speed overdrive transmission for classic GM performance builds.

It is not very costly, can still be found scrap/salvage yards and in junk shops, and is reasonably affordable. And remember, if you snag yourself a late-model 200-4R from one of the more recent productions, it will handily outdo the stock 700R4 found in older vehicles.

It is by no means a perfect transmission and the 700R4 will typically outdo it, and even if you pick up a newer stock version from the wrecking yard at a bargain you will still have some ways to go to making it race-worthy, but a little magic and some elbow grease will turn the 200-4R into your personal holy grail of power and fuel efficiency.

History of the GM 200-4R Transmission

The 200-4R was a continuation of the Turbo Hydramatic line of GM transmissions, specifically being the successor of the TH200, a light-duty TH350 designed to improve fuel efficiency in the face of the oil embargo of 1973.

Years later, in 1981, the TH200 was replaced by the newly-introduced 200-4R, a 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission used in high-power GM trucks and cars, including the Buick Grand National and Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am. The 200-4R can be found in various GM B-body vehicles, C-body vehicles, G-body vehicles, and D-body vehicles.

Similar in build to the TH350, the 200-4R proved to be a great update to the outdated 3-speed transmission in builds where an overdrive gear was a must. Eventually, in 1990, the 200-4R was phased out for the 700R4, and later iterations of the same transmission including the 4L60 and 4L60-E.

Rundown on the Numbers

The 200-4R is a 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission by GM, capable of fitting into most Chevy’s from the 80s and before, built similarly to the TH200 and TH350, as well as the 2-speed Powerglide transmission. Build with a torque converter lock, a 27-spline input/output shaft, 11-quart fuel capacity, a case length of about 27” and a width of about 19”, and an aluminum outer casing, its torque capacity outdoes even the reliable 700R4 of the time. Its gear ratios are:

  • 1st gear: 2.74
  • 2nd gear: 1.57
  • 3rd gear: 1
  • 4th gear: .67

The 200-4R uses a throttle valve cable, which can be replaced based on the exact specifications and compatibility of your car. A mismatched throttle valve cable can wear the transmission out faster, so make sure your cable matches your car’s throttle bracket and carburetor.

Telling a 700R4 apart from the 200-4R is thankfully quite easy, and doesn’t require you to look under the hood. The 200-4R comes with a unique-looking 16-bolt transmission pan, much like the 700R4 and 4L60 but completely different in design. The pans on the 700R4 and 4L60 are square, whereas the 200-4R tapers off on one side. The TH350, on the other hand, looks much like the 200-4R but comes with only 13 bolts.

Because of the similarities in both the size and design of the 200-4R and the TH350, the 200-4R offers a much simpler update to a 4-speed overdrive transmission in your older car than the 700R4 does.

Why Choose the 200-4R Transmission?

The primary reason for picking a 200-4R over the 700R4 boils down to what kind of car you have, and what you are building for. The 200-4R comes with better torque capacity and is a much more straightforward fit into cars that originally sported the 3-speed TH350 or 2-speed Powerglide, but its availability and lack of durability vs. the 700R4 means it may not be a good fit for newer vehicles from the time.

The gearing on the 200-4R is also much more similar to that of the TH350, giving it another plus point as the ideal upgrade to 4-speed overdrive on older Chevy’s. For the most part, even the biggest incompatibilities would require very little modification for a bolt-in.

Versus the 700R4, the fourth gear (overdrive) is slightly more aggressive, rotating at about 3% lower RPM and thus making for a more fuel-efficient transmission. Versus later electronic models (such as the 4L60E), the 200-4R is both more affordable and simpler to work with, although concerns around the integrity of the TV cable and difficulties that often arise when trying to adjust it are always factors to take into consideration.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to admire and pick the 700R4 over the 200-4R – if the circumstances are right. There is no definitive answer – it always depends on what you have got on-hand, and what you are aiming to accomplish. Even if the 700R4 happens to be a slightly better fit for you, you might end up saving more if you find a late-model 200-4R for a better bargain.

Modernizing the 200-4R for Better, Higher Performance

As good as a transmission can be in its pure and intended form, nothing beats what a custom build can get you. And with the right aftermarket parts and some effort from a GM transmission expert, the 200-4R can go from being an aluminum transmission straight out of the 80s, into being a 21st-century powerhouse for performance-oriented muscle cars, complete with a reliable overdrive and heavy-duty materials.

When power becomes a necessity, a customized 200-4R transmission with the appropriate torque converter can hit over 700hp and 675 ft.-lbs. torque, coming in complete with the works, from a high-capacity 30,000 GVW transmission cooler, hardened input shaft, stator shaft and bearings and rings, to a high-capacity pump assembly, 10-clutch direct drum assembly, brand new transmission pan and much more.

Building a 4L60E With Performance-Friendly Gear Ratios

Building a 4L60E With Performance-Friendly Gear Ratios - Gearstar Performance

Transmissions ultimately determine how the output of an engine’s power is translated throughout the rest of the vehicle. A transmission is built to prioritize – and there are plenty of things to prioritize. Do we need speed? Power? Efficiency? Weight? Cost-effectiveness? Throughout the decades, automobile companies have come up with increasingly fine-tuned and advanced examples of this, working off older concepts and introducing new ones along the way, such as electronic control and fine-tuning.

But when it comes to matching cost with performance on a Chevy, you can’t go wrong with an older, customized transmission. While there’s nothing wrong with refurbishing a classic muscle car with a new and improved Turbo 350, you’re more likely going to see cars from the 90s and beyond outfitted with the more modern set of 4L60s and 4L60Es – four-speed automatic transmissions that are basically descendants of the Turbo-Hydramatic 700R4, a powerhouse of a transmission.

The 4L60E is an automatic transmission with electronic control (E), 4 forward gears (and 1 reverse), longitudinal rear-wheel drive, and a 6,000 lbs. maximum gross vehicle weight limit.

Yet the 4L60E isn’t the only transmission of its kind produced by GM at the time. It began as the non-electronic 4L60, installed in most GM trucks (like the Pontiac) before the introduction of the 4L60E, and other transmissions include its successors the 4L65E and 4L70E for large heavy-duty trucks, and stronger transmissions built with different gear ratios for even larger vehicles, such as the 4L80E.

Why the 4L60E Transmission?

The 4L60E transmission remains a common choice for many Chevy enthusiasts looking for a stock transmission to begin with when working on a performance-friendly car. Its main advantage above other transmissions includes the inclusion of digital interfacing and control over the 700R4’s TV cable (which was often a fault rather than an advantage of any kind), and the fact that it’s generally cheaper at stock than a 4L80E or lower, yet still more than enough for any competent transmission expert to turn into a performance-friendly powerhouse.

Take someone experienced, and the 4L60E can easily become the ideal starting transmission to work on a Chevy drag racer.

Choosing the right 4L60E is the most important bit. The latest versions of the 4L60E are built with the modern LS GM engine family in mind, which was introduced in 1998 more than five years after the introduction of the 4L60E. They also come with a larger 300mm torque converter, much thicker than what was previously installed on older 4L60Es. This update, and the fact that the 4L60E was such a common transmission at the time (and continues to be a favorable tranny for LS engines), means that regardless of if your performance car comes with an LS engine or if you’re installing the engine block in a classic muscle car for modern-day performance, you’re most likely going to be working with a 4L60E as well.

Aside from the latest version, which is recommended for newer vehicles, try and match your car to the ideal iteration of the 4L60E. Differences in the bellhousing and torque converter are the most obvious ways to tell them apart: the first 4L60Es came with their integrated bellhousing, and the 1996-1999 versions featured removable bellhousing.

Taking the 4L60E Into the 21st Century Performance World

The main hiccup on the 4L60E is its gear ratios – 3.06 in first and 1.62 in second, which meant you were getting a massive amount of torque in first gear, before dropping down to about half that power in second. Third gear, of course, is at 1:1, and the fourth is reserved for overdrive. The 4L80E on the other hand features 2.48 in first and 1.48 in second, with a 440 lb.-ft. torque rating in stock vs. the 4L60Es 380 lb.-ft. torque rating.

But we’re using the 4L60E here, not the power-robbing 4L80E, and adapting the gear ratios to be more efficient for performance is key when optimizing a transmission.

By changing the 4L60Es gear ratios to match a rear axle ratio of 3.73:1, with a 2.84 first and 1.55 second, you get a final drive ratio relatively close to 10:1 at first (specifically 10.59:1). Doing so means switching to a six-pinion planet over a four-pinion (or the five-pinion used in the 4L65E) – together with a few other aftermarket parts, you can easily turn this roughly 380 lb.-ft. torque, 400± HP transmission into a tranny capable of putting in work on Chevy cars with well over 700 horsepower.

Kitting out a 4L60E to the max means completely changing the transmission, installing new shift, EPC, PWM and control solenoids, a new transmission pan, a new gear set, new bearings, a 13-vane pump assembly, hardened stator shaft and rings, a brand-new cooler, and much, much more.

Knowing Your Gear Ratios

Gear ratios refer to the ratio between two perspective gears. When calculating performance, you must consider your car’s rear axle gear ratio (often ideally set to 4.10:1), and the gear ratio for your transmissions drives. Different ratios produce different outcomes. Other things to consider include tire diameter (larger tires take longer to turn, to put it simply), sticky tires (traction improves overall performance) and terrain.

Ideally, you’ll want a final drive gear ratio of about 10:1 in first gear. The 4L80E’s 2.48, when multiplied to the rear axle ratio of 4.10:1, yields a close 10.16:1 – whereas the 4L60E’s gear ratios are harder to work with, even with another rear axle ratio like 3.73:1. Changing the gear ratio can improve the car’s performance, yield better engine rpm, make more efficient use of the engine’s output and ultimately improve speed – which, in the end, is exactly what you want.

Geared for Performance

When adjusted with proper gear ratios and a set of the right aftermarket parts, the 4L60E can be just the transmission you’re looking for. However, straight out of the box, it’s hard to argue for it vs. the more efficient, yet typically costlier 4L80E.

Both transmissions have their pros and cons, and have different jobs. The 4L80E is built to drive massive heavy-duty trucks – the 4L60E can make itself a cozy home in classic Chevy muscle hot rods and modern engines alike. The key lies in building it just right for your own car – and that’s where the experts come in. The right transmission needs the right car and engine. Creating a car suited for performance is all about optimizing mechanical relationships, and finding harmony in it.

Let’s Talk High Performance 4R70W Transmissions

Let's Talk High Performance 4R70W Transmissions - Gearstar Performance

The 4R70W is a Ford transmission, and generally considered an evolution to the AODE, a transmission that it is often interchanged with. Both are improvements on the AOD, Ford’s first 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission, and its answer to the fuel efficiency issues first brought to light in America by the oil embargo of the 70s.

Since then, improvements in technology and stringent regulations improving fuel efficiency and air quality have demanded better and better transmissions, while still providing opportunities for top notch performance, even if only through a few modifications.

No stock transmission is perfect, but if you’re looking for a small-body Ford transmission with potential for insane performance and no need to mess with pesky throttle valve cables or old-school controls, then the 4R70W is a good place to start – but by no means the best place to end. Here’s a quick overview of the 4R70W, it’s relationship to other popular Ford transmissions, and a few things you should know about it, including its basic strengths, glaring weaknesses, and ways to improve on it and make it both more reliable and better for performance.

Quick Overview of Ford 4R70W Transmissons

It was around the 70s that automobile manufacturers started coming out with better, more fuel-efficient cars. These sacrificed some of the performance and speed of the gas-guzzling large-displacement carbureted V8 models of the past, in exchange for the ability to go long and fast at a much lower cost. While overdrive and general fuel economy were considerations for decades before the oil embargo, it was the steep increase in gas prices introduced by that decade that drove a change into American car manufacturing. It was around then that Ford first produced the AOD, its 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission, in 1980.

The AOD was new, for sure, but mostly incorporated old designs. It didn’t change much from the FMX 3-speed automatics, save for a direct overdrive, and still used the Ravigneaux gear train and other common FMX components. It’s dependable and sturdy due to the inclusion of many of these true-and-tried components, but it’s the additions that make the AOD a liability. With a rather frail overdrive band lacking in proper width, it’s not uncommon for it to wear down quickly versus its newer alternatives.

In comes the AODE. This was Ford’s improvement on the AOD, complete with a new valve body and computer controls to replace the classic throttle valve function and AOD valve body. The AODE was introduced in 1991, known simply as the AOD Electronic Control. It featured a completely revamped valve body, torque controller, front pump assembly, and a single input shaft rather than the primary and intermediate shafts of the AOD.

Specs on the 4R70W

By 1993, an updated version of the AODE hit the market with a different name, although these two transmissions are mostly interchangeable. The 4R70W comes with:

  • 4 forward speeds
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • 700 lb.-ft torque rating
  • Wide gear ratio

Here are the gear ratios for the 4R70W, in comparison to the AOD (in parenthesis):

  • 1st gear: 2.84 (2.40)
  • 2nd gear: 1.55 (1.47)
  • 3rd gear: 1:1 (1:1)
  • 4th gear: 0.70 (0.67)

The valve bodies and cases of the AOD, AODE and 4R70W are all different enough to warrant specificity – while you can take the gear train of the AOD and shove it into an AODE, you can’t switch their valve bodies.

So, Which Is Better?

While the 4R70W is unquestionably better than its predecessors in many ways, that doesn’t always mean it’s the best option for you at the time. If you already have a stock AOD to begin with, there’s a lot you can do with some spare cash without having to invest in a completely new electronic transmission. While the 4R70W can be adapted even to older classic muscle cars, it does take a bit of work and a bit more cash than updating and reworking your stock AOD.

The same goes for cars with the AODE in the 90s. The only time you might want to switch for the 4R70W is if you can afford it, and if you need the improvements.

Better Overdrive, Computer Control

The main benefits of the AODE and 4R70W over their older version is the inclusion of a sturdier, wider overdrive band, better front pump, a solid input shaft, a switch from split-torque overdrive lock-up to the use of a locking torque converter, and finally, much improved pinpoint precision and control through computer-controlled components versus the oft clunky manual control given by a throttle valve function.

Despite a thicker and improved valve body, the electronic AODs also come with a lighter case, built with aluminum rather than steel, improving weight and thus performance and fuel efficiency.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The 4R70W is a good transmission, but it has its pros and cons. Let’s look over some of its best qualities, and some of its faults and issues.

For one, it has a much better and improved overdrive band. Despite being a newer transmission and having a completely different case, the 4R70W is still compatible with a vast number of Ford vehicles without too much reworking or adaptation. You can easily retrofit it into many classic muscle cars, giving older vehicles a much-needed boost in both efficiency and performance.

However, as powerful as it is, be careful not to overload this transmission. There’s a limit to its torque and power, and knowing exactly what it can and can’t do is the difference between an overheated transmission and one that will last you for decades. That, and as with any other transmission, you still need to maintain it regularly.

A Diamond in the Rough

Still, for all its merits and the improvements made upon the 4R70W after decades spent on feedback from the AOD and AODE, there are still flaws in the transmission that must be addressed through aftermarket improvements.

A specialist in Ford transmissions can set you up with an improved 4R70W, with as much as 750hp, an improved torque controller, a much-needed improved cooler with a better GVW of 30,000, and countless reinforcements to improve durability, maximize performance in the long-run, and prevent some of the faults that eventually lead to complete transmission breakdowns in the future. Examples include an improved carbon fiber overdrive band, new pump assembly, higher capacity clutch, updated solenoids for better electronic functionality, and more.

Be sure to only work with specialists who guarantee the quality of their transmission, and do their best to test the integrity of their work every time.

Installing Overdrive in an Early Model GM

Installing Overdrive in an Early Model GM - Gearstar Performance

There’s no doubting the air of Americana around a classic 50s-70s GM ride. In the golden age of American automobile manufacturing, we turned building cars into an art form, and ever since it’s been an intrinsic part of our culture – but even in today’s age of hybrid vehicles, electric cars and fuel-efficient family minivans, anyone with the keys to a classic GM ride knows that there’s nothing that quite compares to riding behind the wheel of one of Detroit’s best.

However, there are also few cars that compare when it comes to sheer fuel consumption. The 50s weren’t exactly known for extreme frugality, and fuel economy wasn’t on the mind of the average American automotive owner. Instead, we focused on speed, on style, performance.

But then the oil crisis kicked in, and car owners quickly realized that they’d have to account for a steep increase in fuel prices. The result? We needed a new approach to fuel consumption, one that would emphasize a more frugal cruise. That’s where the popularity of overdrive came into play.

How Overdrive Works in an Automatic Transmission

Overdrive is when the car’s cruising speeds are maintained while the engine’s RPM are reduced, leading to better fuel efficiency at the cost of performance, or speed. This is done through a faster output speed than input speed, through a specific gear set. This allows you to travel long distances with a much lower fuel cost, and various different automatic transmissions offer different levels of fuel efficiency.

By “over-gearing” and sacrificing the car’s top-speed at that point in time for a lower RPM, you end up burning less fuel while maintaining cruising speed on a flat road. This can’t typically be done on rough or uphill terrain, as the car loses power in overdrive.

Typically, when achieving top speed, a car needs to continuously produce more power to match the increase in air resistance produced by an increase in speed. The ideal gear ratio for speed is the one that matches travel speed with engine speed. But when fuel efficiency becomes the goal, another set of gears is needed to reduce engine RPM but maintain cruising speeds. This, in essence, is the overdrive.

Evolution of the Automatic Overdrive Transmission

Overdrive transmissions in North America were an option in pre-automatic transmissions as far back as the 50s, but it wasn’t until the corporate average fuel economy legislation in 1975 that basically every single American transmission was built to include overdrive.

If you’re planning on riding your classic GM, then an automatic overdrive transmission (AOD) is a basic necessity unless you like watching your tank evaporate like a puddle on a blazing hot day.

Choosing the Right Overdrive Swap for Your GM

When the oil crisis called for new transmissions with a focus on fuel efficiency and compatibility with most of the existing vehicles on the market, GM and other car manufacturers got to work on implementing the overdrive. Throughout the 80s and beyond, automatic overdrive transmissions became a norm on most GM vehicles, from classic Chevy pickup trucks to muscle cars.

Choosing among GM’s selection of overdrive transmissions from back in the day is a matter of two things: compatibility and expectations. Stock automatic transmissions are only built to handle a certain amount of torque and horsepower, and trying to push one beyond its limits is a surefire way to slipping gears, burning through your overdrive and making a mess of things. Here are a few good GM AODs, and some things to keep in mind when choosing among them.

700R4

The 700R4 is widely considered the best 4-speed automatic overdrive transmission out there, and can be seen as one of GM’s best and most reliable AOD transmissions. It first hit the road in the early 80s as a replacement to the TH350 (Turbo-Hydramatic), although this early version doesn’t compare to later 700R4s typically installed in Chevy vehicles before 1993, when it was replaced with the electronic 4L60E.

While it’s a solid transmission, it can be easily tweaked and built for better performance and much better durability. Some issues commonly found in the 700R4 include its often faulty or frail TV cable, and a tendency to overheat. A better cooler, a torque controller and a few aftermarket bits and pieces can turn this into an extremely solid piece of engineering.

200-4R

The 200 4R is possibly the ideal transmission for early GM vehicles, due to compatibility and a comparable strength to the 700R4. Seriously, this thing will bolt in nearly every Chevy chassis on the market, with very little necessary modification.

Like with the 700R4, a TCI kit or a custom job by any trusted transmission expert can make this tranny run much better, with a repositioned TV cable and torque controller being some minimum additions to consider. However, with heavier modifications, you can take this thing even further.

4L60E, 4L65E, 4L80E & 4L85E

GM’s later overdrive transmissions included the 4L60E, 4L65E, 4L70E, 4L80E and 4L85E. Each of these were a continuation of the Turbo 400 and Turbo 700R4, built for rear-wheel high performance. The differences largely lie between the 4L60E and the 4L80E.

Key differences are size and performance. It wouldn’t make much sense to stick a 4L80E into anything smaller than a Chevy truck, especially with the considerable price difference between these two transmissions.

However, if you’re going with a stock 4L60E but have a vehicle capable of going pas 300 horsepower, you’re liable to see that tranny break. A custom 4L60E will get the job done, as will a stock 4L80E.

These are electronic overdrive transmissions, which makes them trickier to install in older vehicles, but not impossible. The alternative is to opt for the older 4L60 transmission, which is not as powerful, but doesn’t include electronic shift controls. That may be more up your alley if you prefer manual shift, too.

Overdrive Transmission Install

If you’ve got the equipment and the experience, then installing a new transmission is just a matter of getting all the right bits and pieces. For that, the Internet is an amazing source of aftermarket parts, reviews and more. But if you’re looking for someone to get the job done for you, you’ll need a more experienced crew.

Instead of a stock overdrive transmission installed straight into your ride, consider a stronger, performance-based custom tranny. Some select performance transmission experts have the skill and the reputation to work on some of GM’s finest old-school AODs, and turn an old stock transmission into a power house ready to put in work on the race track.

Why GM, Ford Joined Forces to Develop 10-Speed Transmissions

Why GM, Ford Joined Forces to Develop 10-Speed Transmissions - Gearstar Performance

The motoring world is full of competition, both on and off the track. If people aren’t competing to be the fastest in speed, they’re competing to bring out the best driving tech possible. That’s why it’s very surprising to some that GM and Ford are both working on 10-speed transmissions, which will make a huge difference to modern luxury cars.

When Competition Meets Collaboration

Although this news may be surprising to some, it’s not the first time that these two companies have worked together. In fact, they collaborated on creating six-speed transmissions just in the last decades. Legally, this is a sound plan. Car companies can collaborate on designing new tech, but when it comes to the manufacturing process, they have to break apart and do this separately. This has led to many companies using the same engines in the past. For example, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and Hyundai all used similar engines in the last decade, after they worked together on designing them.

Why 10-Speed Transmissions?

So, it’s not unusual for companies to work together on new tech. However, many readers will be wondering why they’re even bothering. After all, it sounds like they’re focusing on something that doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things. What will this do for motorists?

A highly tuned transmission can make all the difference to your driving experience. A transmission with more speeds can improve both mileage and performance when done correctly. It doesn’t just rely on the speeds available though, the software controlling it needs to be done well too, in order to help you get the most from your car.

A car with several speeds can be created with some overdrive gears, that are designed to improve fuel performance. These gears will keep the engine running especially slowly, even if the car is driving at speed, such as down the highway.

The art of creating such engines for enhanced speed, without creating the annoying ‘jerking’ feeling that some engines get when you change gears. It’s still to be decided whether GM and Ford can do this together, though.

Alternatives to Multi-Speed Transmissions

Although large advances are being made in creating multi-speed gearboxes, some companies are taking a different approach. For example, companies like Subaru, Honda and Nissan are going a different direction, creating CVTs. These are created with a belt-drive configuration that use variable diameter pulleys. These constantly adjust the ratio to create the correct setting for the driver.

While these are great for some drivers, others don’t enjoy the feeling of gearless driving. Because of this, some developers have programmed in modes that mimic the feel of driving multi-speed cars, or let the driver pick from several different modes. While there are a lot of benefits to CVTs, many drivers still prefer the way multi-speed gearboxes feel to drive.

History of Multi-Speed Transmissions

Of course, this partnership isn’t the first time that a new style of multi-speed gearbox has been created. At time of writing, Chrysler Group are putting nine-speed gearboxes into the Dodge Dart, and the upcoming 2014 Jeep Cherokee. They’re also a pioneer in using eight-speed gear boxes in their line ups, such as in the Ram pickups.

Seven and eight-speeds are actually quite common right now with luxury car brands, so you may already be familiar with them. With 10-speed transmissions being worked on now, we can now expect to see some great leaps forward in how multi-speed gearboxes work.

The Financial Incentives of Co-Creation

GM and Ford say that by developing their new engine together, they can help save the consumer a lot of cash. This is especially true of those who drive smaller cars. With a 10-speed gearbox, the driver will have more control over fuel consumption, meaning they’re spending much less at the gas pumps.

Of course, it’s not just the driver who’s saving money. By choosing the develop this new technology together, GM and Ford are saving themselves potentially millions of dollars in development cash. Of course, whether they pass the savings on to the customer remain to be seen.

Either way, such collaborations offer many benefits to consumers. There’s no word on when the new 10-speed will be made available to the public yet, as it’s still in the planning stages. However, if more companies follow the lead seen here, we could see some new and exciting changes in motoring before long.